One of my all-time favourite biblical stories to explore with children and youth is the creation story in Genesis. This is the story that was written to help us understand who we are as created beings, the nature of God, and our relationship to the creation as a whole in contrast to other creation myths of that time.
There is a vibrancy and a sense of anticipation in the Genesis 1 account that is a delight to share as simple words invoke planetary actions that explode with life and colour. And Genesis 2 has one of my favourite images, that of God breathing God's very breath into human life. And all of it was good!
It's no wonder this is one of my favourite stories!
However, the logical next story, is one that I'm only beginning to appreciate exploring with young people. It's often referred to as "the fall." Which I have to admit makes my stomach clench. This is the story that's been used to either teach children that they are at their very core "bad", or at the very least, capable of doing very bad things (which is not untrue, just perhaps unhelpful when you're 5). Or it reminds them that their behaviour is what God values. After all, Adam and Eve (or often just Eve) misbehaved and it led to great suffering for the rest of time, so don't take that cookie!
These are teachings that I have come across embedded in the lives of children, youth, and adults. A young child comes to me absolutely terrified and in tears because she is afraid of what might happen if she dies before being baptized, since that is apparently the solution to her "badness." A young man writes adamantly of his sinful nature, to the degree that it is evident that he will never forgive himself, let alone receive God's forgiveness for his unhealthy choices. An elderly woman shares with me the joys of her life's work, and then turns sorrowful as she expresses her hope that it will have been enough to cover the multitude of her sins, the sin that makes up her created being.
These encounters make my heart ache. These encounters have made it difficult for me to address sin in my ministry. But over time, and through study I've been offered other interpretations of sin or "the fall." Interpretations that find their grounding in Genesis 1, rather than being rooted in Genesis 3.
Wow, I'm rewriting this next part a lot. It's hard to talk about how we explore sin, without talking about how we think about the cross, or how we think about child development, or theodicy! This could go on forever!
So perhaps I'll just say that I believe we can only teach young people (and adults) about brokenness and sin, from within the context of their goodness. They, like Adam and Eve will make bad choices, and those choices will have consequences, and regardless of their choices bad things will happen in the world around them. Sickness and disease and war will be a part of all our lives. But, while sin and brokenness may mask the goodness within them and within the world, the very breath of God that lives in creation cannot be entirely erased. Adam and Eve did not cease to be God's beloved children. God did not stop caring for them. God did not remove God's breath from them. God did not erase the majesty from what God spoke into being.
Sin covers up, it masks, it does not erase. The goodness that lies at the core of each one of us is what responds to the compassion and love of God. I imagine that when Jesus reached out his hand to the broken and the outcast, there was a spark of recognition. Divine breath recognized divine breath, and there was healing and connection and union once again.